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  • Comics and Sacred Texts: Reimagining Religion & Graphic Narratives ed. by Assaf Gamzou and Ken Koltun-Fromm
  • Matthew William Brake (bio)
Assaf Gamzou and Ken Koltun-Fromm, eds., Comics and Sacred Texts: Reimagining Religion & Graphic Narratives. University Press of Mississippi, 2018. xxi + 299 pp, $30, $90.

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In this collection, Assaf Gamzou and Ken Koltun-Fromm have gathered together a number of essays highlighting the way that the comics or graphic narrative medium enables us to see the sacred in new ways outside of traditional modes of encounter. This collection analyzes materials from across the spectrum of graphic narratives, including stories from mainstream comics, illustrated sacred stories, as well as manga and anime. In this volume, gone is the "once noticeable apologetic stance toward comic books" (xiv), a refreshing change of pace, and instead, the volume focuses on how graphic narratives teach us "how to see and read the sacred" (xx).

Gamzou and Koltun-Fromm divide their collection into four sections: 1) Seeing the Sacred in Comics; 2) Reimagining Sacred Texts through Comics; 3) Transfigured Comic Selves, Monsters, and the Body, and 4) The Everyday Sacred in Comics. Section one [End Page 343] discusses the ways that the sacred manifests itself by various means of representation. For instance, in Madeline Backus and Ken Koltun-Fromm's essay "Writing the Sacred in Craig Thompson's Habibi," the authors discuss the inscription of Arabic calligraphy upon nature and even the naked and eroticized body of the character Dodola, while Susan Handelman's "The Hebrew Alphabet as Graphic Narrative" asks us to see within the Hebrew alphabet itself the emanations of the sacred. Leah Hochman's essay on "The Ineffability of Form" helps us to see how graphic narratives can give form to the ineffability of the sacred in ways that words alone cannot, representing what it may mean not simply to discuss the sacred, but experience it ourselves. A. David Lewis tops off this section in his discussion of "fictoscripture" or the fictional sacred texts that appear in graphic narratives, such as the DC comics Crime Bible. Lewis asks us to consider the possibility, in dialogue with Mircea Eliade, that fictoscripture might be a way in which a hierophany could appear, providing a means for encountering a genuine source of the sacred.

Section two addresses various graphic adaptations of sacred texts with the conceit that "comics discipline readers to see the sacred as textual encounter" (xx). Essays by Karline McLain, Elizabeth Rae Coody, Ranen Omer-Sherman, and Scott S. Elliott discuss various adaptations of the Ramayana, the Gospel of Mark, 1 Samuel, and depictions of sexuality in The Action Bible and Genesis Illustration. Each adaptation provides a different way of seeing the text and reveals both the assumptions of their authors and the ways in which they question conventional interpretations.

In section three, scholars Samantha Langsdale, Jeffrey L. Richey, and Samantha Baskind ask us to consider the ways that monstrous, liminal bodies and horrific experiences of life call into question traditional demarcations of the sacred in the Dark Phoenix Saga, manga and anime, and the Holocaust in Joe Kubert's Yossel. For instance, while the Dark Phoenix Saga is often critiqued for its depiction of the monstrous figure of Jean Grey as the Phoenix as a sign of uncontrolled feminine chaos in need of masculine ordering, Langsdale puts this story into dialogue with hagiographies and stories of medieval Christian women mystics, whose embodied practices were themselves considered dangerous but challenged the boundaries of the sacred.

Section four addresses the ways in which graphic novels can open our eyes to the sacred in the everyday, whether in Ofra Omihay's essay on Paul Madonna's comics and their sacralizing of mundane, urban life, Shiamin Kwa's analysis of Kevin Huizenga's Walkin', or Joshua Plencner's essay on how Fallen Son reveals grief to be something ineffable and sacred. This is topped off by a discussion of Will Eisner's classic Contract with God and its Jewish immigrant protagonist's struggle with God in a Bronx tenement neighborhood.

This volume has a number of strengths that scholars studying the intersection of religion, comics, and graphic narratives...


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pp. 343-345
Launched on MUSE
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